Frequently Asked Questions
What is Naltrexone?
Naltrexone is a medication used to block the effects of drugs known as opioids; opioids compose a class of highly addictive drugs that include heroin, morphine, and codeine. Naltrexone works to fight against the effects opioids on specific receptors in the brain in the pleasure center, or frontal lobe - this drug has also been found to work effectively as a method of aiding in the treatment for opioid addiction.
Recently, however - an additional use for Naltrexone has been found, as a treatment against alcoholism. The FDA has recently approved Naltrexone as a clinically studied drug that effectively assists patients in remaining abstinent from alcohol. The drug has proven to be twice as effective as a placebo in preventing relapses. Naltrexone has also proved to assist patients with many types of drug dependence including methamphetamine, and benzodiazepine dependence though it is not the main target of the drug.
How does Naltrexone work?
The exact method of Natlrexone's action is unknown, but there are three widely recognized effects from use of the medication. First, naltrexone can reduce cravings, which is the urge or desire to drink and use. Second, Naltrexone helps patients remain abstinent. Third, Naltrexone can interfere with the tendency to want to drink or use more if a recovering patient slips and has a drink. Naltrexone reduces cravings, and the phenomenon of obsessing - be it opioids or alcohol, the desire and urge to repeat the behavior is reduced dramatically. As a result, the patient has an easier time remaining alcohol- and drug-free. Should the patient slip and have a drink or use, Naltrexone impairs the desire to want to drink and use more. People who are dependent on opioid drugs, like heroin or morphine must stop their drug use at least 7 days prior to starting Naltrexone.
Is Naltrexone alone the solution for alcoholism and drug addiction?
No. Naltrexone is only one part in an overall treatment program, and not to be confused as a cure-all “sober pill.” In conjunction with psychological help, therapy, counseling, and self-help groups, however, it is especially effective in curbing the physical dilemmas associated with alcoholism or drug addiction. In studies, Naltrexone was shown to be effective most when it was combined with treatment from professional psychotherapists. In fact, one multi-site study showed that Naltrexone-taking subjects who attended mutual-support groups, such as AA, had better outcomes. It is most likely to be effective for patients whose goal is to stop drinking altogether. If other mutual-support group members caution against taking any medications, patients should refer them to the pamphlet, “The AA Member - Medications and Other Drugs,” which explicitly states that AA members should not “play doctor” and advise others on medications provided by legitimate, informed medical practitioners or treatment programs.
If patients take Naltrexone, does it mean that they don't need other treatments for alcohol dependence?
No. Research studies have shown that Naltrexone was most effective when it was combined with treatment from professionals and/or mutual-support groups. Research studies show higher success rate of clients reaching 1 year of sobriety when given the implant while receiving behavioral health, and mental health services.
How does the Naltrexone Pellet work as an implant?
The implant is a small pellet that is inserted into the lower abdomen under local anesthetic. The pellet, once implanted, releases a controlled amount of Naltrexone into the body over a time ranging from 3 mo, 6mo, to 1 year depending on the preferred implant. Sustainable Recovery starts with a 3 month implant to see how the patient reacts to the implant. After 3 months, the patient is eligible to elect to get the 1 year implant.
Who is Naltrexone not for?
The medication is not for use in pregnant or breast-feeding patients, those with liver or kidney disease, or those with hepatitis. The medication also may have slight side effects, including nausea, cramping, headaches, and anxiety - these side effects, however, are generally experienced only by a small portion of patients. Care must be taken to notify your doctor regarding medications you are currently taking to being prescribed, as Naltrexone may interfere with the effectiveness of some medications.
What will happen if a patient drinks alcohol while taking Naltrexone?
Naltrexone does not reduce the effects of alcohol that impair coordination and judgment. Naltrexone may reduce the feeling of intoxication and the desire to drink more, but it will not cause a severe physical response to drinking.
Will I get sick if I stop Naltrexone suddenly?
Naltrexone does not cause physical dependence and it can be stopped at any time without withdrawal symptoms. In addition, available findings regarding cessation do not show a "rebound" effect to resume alcohol use when Naltrexone is discontinued.